- CP photo: Ryan Deto
- State Sen. Jay Costa speaking at a rally in front of Sen. Pat Toomey's office Downtown
On Dec. 22, the government shut down after U.S. Congress failed to pass a bill to fund many of its operations. A week before the shutdown, President Donald Trump said in a meeting with Democratic leaders, “I am proud to shut down the government for border security … I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down.”
Now the shutdown has become the longest in U.S. history, and a group of Pennsylvania state Democratic politicians and Pittsburgh residents are putting pressure on Toomey to end it.
“Toomey needs to advance clean bills,” said state Sen. Jay Costa (D-Forest Hills) to the crowd. "Trump is holding us hostage over his wall.”
Toomey, like every U.S. senator, voted on Dec. 19 to fund the federal government without any money for a border wall, but that bill was stalled in the then Republican-controlled U.S. House when Trump signaled his disapproval.
At the rally, Costa urged Toomey to support bringing that bill up again in the Senate. If that bill passed with 67 votes (it received 100 votes last time) it would clear a veto-proof majority. Then if that bill cleared two-thirds majority in the House, the government would reopen since it would bypass Trump's potential veto. Trump is requesting $5.7 billion in initial funding for a border wall to be part of spending bill to reopen the government.
Toomey tweeted yesterday that Trump’s request is “reasonable” and “deserved a counter proposal.” Toomey supports Trump’s offer to the Democrats, who now control the U.S. House, to extend protections to undocumented immigrants who were brought into the U.S. as young children, aka Dreamers. But that extension only provides protections for three years. Democrats have rejected that offer.
President Trump's request for $5.7 billion in border security funding is reasonable and certainly deserved a counter proposal, at the very least. But Speaker Pelosi has refused to negotiate.— Senator Pat Toomey (@SenToomey) January 21, 2019
Toomey also supports a bill to fund roughly 420,000 federal employees who have been deemed “essential across nine departments” of the federal government during this shutdown, and another bill that would fund federal agencies, should Congress not pass an appropriations bill on time.
Stephanie Fellow, a worker at Giant Eagle who receives subsidies to help her pay for food for her toddler, said she is struggling without that funding. She says other Giant Eagle workers and customers tell her they are struggling too.
“I am speaking out for them, for my coworkers and for my baby,” said Fellow.
State Rep. Ed Gainey (D-East Liberty) also emphasized urgency because funds for SNAP benefits, aka food stamps, could run out by March and leave low-income Americans without the money they need for groceries.
.@RepGainey asking Toomey and Trump to re-open government. Gainey says we are getting dangerously close to running out of funding for SNAP benefits, which help low-income people pay for groceries. pic.twitter.com/1vzEIOkxxO— Pittsburgh City Paper (@PGHCityPaper) January 22, 2019
Alandia Heard is a home-care worker who takes care of seniors. She says her job depends on money from the federal government. “Senator Toomey, do your job,” said Heard. “Not everyone is behind you. My patients depend on me.”
State Rep. Summer Lee (D-Swissvale) also spoke to the crowd and said a pattern has been emerging from Trump’s administration and the Republican politicians that support him. Lee said the shutdown has hurt federal workers and those who receive federal benefits the most, typically low-income individuals.
“We have a war on poor people,” said Lee. “We need to stop expecting people who hate us to put us first.”
She said that if Toomey doesn’t change his tune and push to vote to reopen the government without border wall funding, that voters should send him a message when his term is up in 2022.